Up close with pro mechanic Jeff Yingling

We noticed Jeff Yingling wrenching passionately all day and night in the CeramicSpeed booth at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. Yingling is relatively new to the brand and he seemingly worked very well with Paul Sollenberger on the big stage there. Here now is our chat with him.

Slowtwitch: Hey Jeff, thank you for your time.

Jeff Yingling: Thank you.

ST: Well, was this your first time in Kona?

Jeff: No it was actually my second time on the Big Island with CeramicSpeed. It is pretty special and I have been trying come here for 3-4 years. But I did not want to pay for it out of my own pocket, I always had in my mind to come with a manufacturer or something. So yes last year was my first when they hired me and flew me out to this race. And now I am a full time employee with CeramicSpeed.

ST: Where did you work before?

Jeff: I worked for a shop in Arizona called Tribe Multisport and I worked from them for 3 or 4 years. So every time when IRONMAN Arizona came into town I worked with all the athletes and Pros that came through. And that way I made some connections here and there and that is how I got here.

ST: So you did not come from a road bike shop and wondered about all this tri geek stuff.

Jeff: I was actually involved in mountain bikes for a very long time and then got into road bikes to better myself. Then I got involved in a triathlon shop when my friend Kevin Weitzel who owned it got me in there. I fell in love with the tri scene mainly because of the bikes and how cool they looked just sitting still. And every bike is a challenge, it is not as cut and dry as road bikes. Everything is heavily integrated and that interested me in triathlon.

ST: When you came to Kona last year what was most surprising to you?

Jeff: The sights. I had never been to anywhere tropical prior, so that was a shock. It is also the only place where I have ever been where you can take a shower and 5 minutes later you are disgusting again. Plus of course the athletes. Working with so many big names I had previously only seen on Instagram and Facebook. They kind of stroll through and they are the nicest and sweetest people. I was a little intimidated, so I would say interacting with the pros was the biggest shock. I had to hold back being star struck and just do my job.

ST: Do you feel pressure in that situation? Not that the bike of an age grouper has less priority, but their livelihood is not depending on their gear working properly. Or does it make no difference to you?

Jeff: It kind of does not make a difference and I try to do the same job on everybody’s bike no matter who it is. But the pros create a little more stress because all eyes are on them, and so if something happens the question is “who is the mechanic?” It is not often spoken about, but if something happens everyone knows about it.

ST: How did the setup change for you from last year in Kona to this year?

Jeff: Our setup for CeramicSpeed was way bigger than last year. We went with the whole stage setup and that was a more professional space that Paul and I could work on. Last year we did it in a 10x15 tent and it worked, but it wasn’t ideal. When you dropped something you had to dig through the grass to find it, and this year we did not have to do that. Plus it also seems to be a lot busier.

ST: You seemed to have pretty long working days.

Jeff: We started wrenching on Sunday and our expo hours were 9am – 5pm, but after the first day we changed it to 8am to whenever we were done. We did not want to turn anyone away. So there many 12 hour work days and it was nuts.

ST: I noticed you working on the new Cannondale of Andy Potts, a bike he ended up not racing. Do you like that you get to see new stuff before most folks?

Jeff: Being on this side of the industry is really fun for me, and I think most mechanics would really love it. Seeing the prototypes and other secret stuff is great.

ST: We don’t want you to name names, but did you notice any setups that were especially good or bad?

Jeff: You would be actually surprised how bad some of these setups are, and they do not even know it. People come to us and want oversized pulleys added but we then notice that the derailleurs do not work or that the brakes are shot. And this folks have been riding their bikes all year and have no idea how bad it is and what can fail. There is a lot that can go wrong and we corrected these items and showed it to them. We made sure that the bike is at its best.

ST: Would you not think that a mechanic at home looked at the bike before it was shipped to Kona and what is likely the biggest race of the year for them? Or do some folks simply not bother?

Jeff: I think it is a combination of both time and mechanics not well informed on tri bikes. A lot of these age groupers have families and work a 40-hour week, and finding time to prep [the bike] is often difficult. So I don’t blame them if they end up with a crappy setup. Also a lot of the mechanics do not work on tri bikes often and don’t know how a Shiv handlebar needs to be set up or how a certain XLab storage unit needs to be mounted. They make sure it shifts and everything is lubed up and that is it. Plus there are so many different brakes in triathlon and many folks are simply not familiar. I don’t think it is them being bad mechanics, they just need more time on it.

ST: Did you notice salt damage on bikes that have been here longer?

Jeff: Not necessarily on the island, mainly if they live in a coastal area like Southern California, Florida etc. The salt does create havoc on all the nuts, bolts and bearings, as all the salt gets in there for sure. But when folks come from Arizona to Hawaii for 2-3 weeks you generally do not see any real issues along those lines. But folks sweating really corrodes items, and of course those sugary drinks are trouble too. That is actually a bigger factor than salt air.

ST: What was the percentage of pro bikes versus age group bikes you worked on?

Jeff: It was pretty much 50/50, maybe 60/40 age groupers versus pros. There were a lot of pros who are not on our roster, but they trusted us and knew that they can rely on us. But the main purpose for us being in Kona is helping out our customer base.

ST: Did many folks come in to get new parts before the race?

Jeff: We sold many full upgrades this week, and so we did wheel bearings, pulleys and bottom brackets and it is amazing that people trust us that much to let us rip their bike down and build it back down days before their biggest race of the year. That is pretty remarkable.

ST: Is it mostly the age groupers who do big changes?

Jeff: Yeah, yeah, but for some of the pros we did wheel upgrades for those who got new wheels, including all the folks who got on the new Cervelo P5X. Those bikes all also got new pulleys. Andy Potts had been racing on his bike all year and needed some new stuff, plus Tim Reed had new wheels, and so the pros had their fair share of work being done.

ST: So what is next for you?

Jeff: I believe the next trip is IRONMAN Florida, then IRONMAN Arizona and then Cozumel. Then Bahamas and Denmark for the company Christmas party.

ST: Does Paul join you for these events?

Jeff: Sometimes when the races are smaller it will just be me by myself, or just Paul. Cozumel and Arizona will be just me, but he will be with me in Florida. Whenever he is around life is much better.

ST: I guess there aren’t that many folks who get to fly to Denmark for a Christmas party.

Jeff: The whole company is based in Denmark, and here in the US in Boulder, Colorado it is just Paul, Ben and I, and Kayla who does our accounting. So we all get to fly to the Christmas party and it is a big important thing for the company. It is a very family oriented brand that works out of the house of this guy, and he has slowly added more buildings as the company grew. They eat lunch together every day and this will be my first trip over there.

ST: Any final tip for triathletes how they can make sure their bike is ready for the next event?

Jeff: That is hard, I could maybe write a whole book about this. Just be detail oriented and make sure your bike is taken care of. It is the only thing that can really let you down in a triathlon outside of yourself. Your shoes can’t fail, but your bike can.

ST: Well, have fun in Florida and of course also in Denmark.

Jeff: Yes, thank you.